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New Caledonia moves on after referendum sham

The political movement that boycotted the final referendum on New Caledonian independence from French rule is not set to demand a new vote that was initially promised next year.

Independence activist Emilie Lagartixa has been one of an outspoken group of New Caledonians that are in favour of greater Indigenous sovereignty, but expects the Kanak and Socialist Liberation Front to accept and move on from the flawed result.

“I think there is no chance there will be a referendum next year now that the third referendum has been organised and is legally fine – but still politically illegitimate,” Ms Lagartixa said.

“But I believe the Kanak and Socialist Liberation Front knows that – what they want is to negotiate with the future French government – post-presidential elections in April – on a project for a new status for Kanaky-New Caledonia and that is the referendum ‘de projet’ that is planned for June.”

Masses of the eligible 41.2 per cent of voting Kanaks who make up around 110,000 of their 275,000 citizens failed to turn up to the polls on Sunday.

The decision to remain within the French republic was carried 96.49 per cent to just 3.51 per cent after little more than 40 per cent of adults voted.

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Significantly higher turnouts at the first two referendums had around 43 per cent, in 2018, and 47 per cent, two years later, in favour of independence from France.

President Emmanuel Macron brought forward the third referendum 10 months to precede France’s national elections to capitalise on the issue politically.

“Unfortunately, it does not look to me like Macron and his government are paying attention to the point of view of the independentist parties and people,” Ms Lagartixa said.

Voting booths were so empty that in Canala, polling staff, which included mayor Gilbert Tyuienon, were spotted occupying their time watching movies on mobile devices.

Just nine people voted in the administrative division of the Northern province.

Ms Lagartixa believed Kanak and Socialist Liberation Front will bide its time for the new government project that will give the Indigenous population some sort of say on the French overseas territory.

A range of political parties and figures had agreed with the Paris government in June this year that no matter the outcome of the referendum, “a period of stability and convergence” should set up more of a plebiscite in June 2023 over what project the country’s people want to pursue.

New Caledonia moves on after referendum sham
Independentists demonstrate as they hold Kanak flags the morning after islanders voted overwhelmingly to stay a part of France. Picture Theo Rouby / AFP

France had also drawn the ire around the world after ignoring calls from Kanaks to call off the vote over health concerns from Covid-19 outbreaks and ensuing traditional Indigenous mourning periods.

French diplomat Pierre Morcos was on the ground in New Caledonia on referendum day.

He said the political climate had been and remained tense.

“Pro-independence forces have questioned the date chosen by Paris, given the persistence of the pandemic,” he tweeted.

“World bystands condemned France’s actions to bring forward the polls nearly 12 months earlier before the country’s planned general election in April next year.”

The Paris government released a statement that rejected postponing the vote, saying that pandemic was “under control” and that Kanak mourning that was behind the boycott had not compromised the election procedures.

Election observers from the United Nations and Pacific Islands Forum arrived in the capital, Noumea, to observe voting, as did 2,000 metropolitan police from France to maintain law and order.

Former secretary general of the Pacific Islands Forum, Meg Taylor, wrote to Mr Macron on behalf of former leaders of Tuvalu, Kiribati, Palau and the Marshall Islands on November 23, issuing a warning of potential violence should the poll go ahead.

George Hoa’au, the acting director-general of the Melanesian group, remarked that the French were “not good at anti-colonisation”.

He also questioned “will it be a legitimate process when people don’t attend?”

“They are not good at establishing egalitarian relations with former colonies,” Hoa’au told reporters.

“We must not allow this type of engagement with indigenous people in the 21st century.”

The cause for a Kanaky republic gained some solidarity from France’s nearest neighbour in what is a sympathetic ear on independence.

“A shame to see self-determination curtailed by metropolitan interests,” Basque senator for Madrid Gorka Elejabarrieta Diaz tweeted.

“The referendum today in #Kanaky-#NewCaledonia is under a shadow of doubt and in the midst of Kanak grieving for their Covid dead. Solidarity!”

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